Nov 01 2047: Ravens Find Unexpected Success, Win It All - by lostraven on November 12th, 2020
For Immediate Release
01 November 2047 - Corvallis, Oregon
"We're not a last place team," Corvallis Ravens manager Harry Youngblood kept telling his players in mid-May, after a brutal 10 and 20 win-loss stretch. "You know it, and I know it."
Youngblood, an Oregon native working his seventeenth season as the Ravens' skipper, says in retrospect, it's not that surprising that this 2047 team found success, but there was certainly a bit of luck in helping it all come together.
Rewind to the preseason of 2047, and you'd have seen a lineup card that looks a little different than the one that won Legends West and, subsequently, the Legends Pennant. Not drastically different mind you, but there were "question marks," as Youngblood puts it.
"We had had our eyes on some young guys filling some spots in the lineup card, at first base versus right-handers and left-handers, as well as at second base. We weren't sure at the time where that would put us, though we had a lot of confidence in our players and staff. Come that rough patch we hit in May, we wondered if we could improve in a few spots."
That's when veteran first baseman Marques Glenn came into the picture.
"For whatever reason, it didn't look like Glenny was getting much attention from other teams on the waiver wire," Youngblood said. "There was only one other claim on him, and we really liked what he did out in Charleston. And, well, the rest is history."
Glenn would go on to put up a triple slash of .335/.410/.576 in 373 at-bats, filling a key role in the four slot of the team's lineup versus right-handed pitching. This protection behind the Ravens' number three batter, third baseman Arseniy Morozov, arguably allowed the "Mad Russian" to put up more quality at-bats. Though his bat cooled late in the season, Morozov agrees.
"Yes, without a doubt I was able to be a better hitter and saw better pitches with Glenn batting behind me," said Morozov.
Other critical acquisitions gave the Ravens more flexibility with their lineup. Veteran second baseman Luis Rojas took a little of the pressure to succeed off of young lefty-throwing second baseman Silvio Cisneros. Power-hitting shortstop Luis Enriquez arrived July 2, similarly giving young shortstop and defensive ace Fernando Padilla a chance to focus on learning more in the outfield. And veteran DH Kirk Kishio arrived at the acquisition deadline to make some critical at-bats versus lefties, taking pressure off a young, struggling Glenn Santini.
Where the team felt strongest was with its pitching staff, yet even they would acquire a bullpen upgrade in the form of volatile flamethrower Erik Schuster. While Schuster had a difficult introduction to the league initially in June, he eventually settled in and contributed to the tune of a solid 3.33 ERA in 73 innings pitched, while further stabilizing the road to the eighth and ninth innings.
However, there was always a strong heart to the team, Youngblood says. "No, without a doubt, this team has had the talent," he said. "Look at what we did two seasons prior, after taking a rare demotion to League Level Three. We immediately fought back, won III.4. then II.2, and now ..."
Youngblood gets emotional at this point, pausing to wipe a tear from his eye.
"You don't work this hard for seventeen seasons not expecting to win it all at some point," he added.
Echoing the manager's sentiment was veteran catcher Kōichi Ueno, the longest tenured player on the team. Ueno received his first cup of coffee in the Majors back in 2036, in League Level Four but was sent down to the Minors again the following season to further work on fundamentals. But in 2038 he would come back to stay, playing not only the catcher position but filling in around the outfield and first base. But catcher was always his home, and he's elated to have been able to help see this team to Legends.
"An amazing experience, absolutely," said Ueno. "A part of me still can't believe it, but I knew always we had the potential to win. And here we are! This may end up being my last season, so this is all a bit extra, how do you say, bitter and sweet?"
In the end, everyone contributed to this 2047 season, one that will go down in Ravens history forever. The team saw Gold Glove defense from the likes of Morozov and right fielder Esteban Mena. Starting pitchers Yo*beep*omo Nakata and Randall Houser put up All-League Pitcher performances. Closer Jared Romano recovered from last season's debacle and put up a record 46 saves. Young pitcher Matt Bench continued to emerge as a late-inning option. And everyone subscribed to Youngblood's formula of "medium-to-small" ball, sacrificing runners over, sacrificing hits to bring runners across the plate, all while also hitting 10 to 20 home runs.
In retrospect, claims Youngblood, it may have been easy to see why the Ravens were viewed as underdogs coming into Legends. After all, it IS Legends. Denver Broncos. Laredo Mules. Moore Manta Rays. These are all teams with rich and fruitful histories in the league, with pedigrees to put them at the top at any given season. Maybe things went wrong for those teams. Maybe the Ravens got a little lucky. But in the end, claims Youngblood, luck carries you only so far.
"Sure, I'll take the lucky bloops, the unexpected waiver wins," he said. "But in the end, lineup composition, bullpen management, defensive alignments ... These are all aspects that require skill. A team doesn't win 96 games on luck alone."
And, largely, this team seems to agree, brushing aside the critics and soaking up the champagne in rarified air.
Tonight, the Ravens roost atop all of Broken Bat.
Oct 14 2046: Ravens Fans Go Wacko for Promotion to Legends League - by lostraven on August 22nd, 2020
For Immediate Release
13 October 2046 - Corvallis, Oregon
Darius Epps was rolling through the top of the ninth inning, having only given up one run all game. Then he faltered. There was one out left in the game, one out away from clinching a promotion to the Broken Bat Legends League. Manager Harry Youngblood, in his sixteenth year managing the team, had a decision to make.
As it turns out, it was the right one. Cole Bergman came in, and four pitches later, a ground ball clinched it. The fans erupted into rapturous applause.
"No problem with that decision at all," said a champagne-soaked Epps after the game. "The fans have been waiting for years for this. I trust in Youngie. We pulled it off. Mission accomplished!"
The win was particularly sweet for veteran catcher Kōichi Ueno, the lone veteran who's been on the team since before the climb to League Level II. "I can't describe the feeling," said Ueno. "I got my first shot in 2036, and here we are in 2046, winning it all and going to the Legends League. We spent so many seasons in II before falling back to III last season. But our young pitching core has propelled us forward!"
Youngblood also was sentimental after the game. He was hired on in 2031, and the team was mired in League Level IV for more than a handful of seasons. But his reputation for tenacity and working with young pitchers has earned him a positive reputation in Corvallis.
"It's finally on the way," stammered a cooler-drenched Youngblood in the post-game interview. "I can't believe it. At 67, I wasn't sure I'd see it. But here we are. It's amazing, and I owe this team so much."
On the other side of the country, in the Eastern division, the Concord Jets were only one game away from clinching, and were fully expected to head to Legends along with the Ravens next season. With a Ravens-Jets playoff likely in the cards, Youngblood was mum about what the rotation may look like.
"We ran a six-man all year," said Youngblood. "Difficult to say what we'll do going forward. We'll cross that bridge soon."
In Corvallis, revelry has already proved robust, with fans taking to 2nd Street in droves. "Unbelievable!" shouted 46-year-old Terry Downs. "Wasn't sure this day would ever come." Another reveler, Annie, quipped, "Ravens will be perching atop Legends before you know it!"
Oct 22 2041: Facing Likely Final Start, Dunbar Reminisces on Being a Career Raven - by lostraven on August 5th, 2019
For Immediate Release
23 October 2041 - Corvallis, Oregon
For a man who's been with a single baseball team for his entire career, the slightly grayed and normally contemplative Stuart Dunbar was acting like it was his first day in the Minors. The smile on his face was enormous, and so was his glove, as he shagged pop flies in left field in preparation for what may very well be his final career start.
"I always wanted to play a little outfield," said Dunbar afterwards. "I actually had my sights on chasing down fly balls and robbing homers when I was growing up, but mom ..." His voice trailed off for a moment. "She saw something in my arm and signed me up for pitching classes in first grade."
The Los Angeles native reminisced on his childhood and his college years at California Polytechnic. "Man, those were some good years. But it wasn't until pitching at Polytechnic that things got a little more complicated. I was humbled by losing some big games, and I first realized I had a propensity for giving up a lot of flies and bombs."
In truth, Dunbar always found success with pitching despite his flyball nature. It wasn't, however, until his first year in AAA that really got him worried.
"It was awful. Something like 33, 34 home runs with the [Rockaway Beach] Snappers in my first year of AAA. I really started to doubt myself and whether I'd succeed. But Billy Jean, the pitching coach at the time, he told me my fast ball and control would still carry me, even if I couldn't quite get the spin I wanted on them. It was kind of a turning point. Oh, and that's when I got my nickname, 'The Jet.'"
Dunbar went on to pitch a third of a season in AAA in 2030. Then he got the call.
"Nervous," he said, when asked about the call. "I think that first start in front of the big crowd in Corvallis, man that was nerve-racking. But I quickly found I could succeed in the Bigs."
Dunbar would pitch out of the rotation the rest of the year and help propel the Ravens to League Level IV. With more experience, he found success in the rotation, keeping his fly balls and home runs in check best he could. But then in 2033, at the age of 27, Dunbar faltered.
"I started to doubt myself again," he said of that year, finishing with a career worst 4.48 ERA. "I was in a funk after that, but [manager] Youngy' surprised me. He had my old pitching coach Billy Jean visit with me for a few weeks, straighten out some hiccups in my delivery. And then it finally clicked. I finally felt like I was supposed to be here."
Dunbar settled into his new norm and soon went on to some of the best years of his career. In 2035 he went to the All Star Game for the first time and won an All-League pitching award. He would go on to have arguably his best season ever the following year, with a 3.47 ERA, 0.999 WHIP, a career high 241 innings pitched, and 220 strikeouts. That was also the year he helped the Corvallis Ravens finally make the jump to League Level III.
As his early thirties went by, his numbers started to slip a bit, but Dunbar always remained a key component of the rotation. The going got tougher at age 33 with the Ravens' introduction to League Level II, and Father Time started catching up with Dunbar. But he always believed in himself, he said.
"Naw, without a doubt. You look the truth in the face and know that your clock is ticking. Despite it, you want to get out there and give it your all, even as you see the signs, the strike percentage falling, the walks increasing ..."
When asked if he would consider one more year of pitching in some capacity, Dunbar faltered a bit.
"I'll be 36 next season. The fastball ain't what it used to be. Sure, I could pitch out of the pen a bit like I did this year, but, I don't know. I think I'd rather go out on a high note, you know? When I graduated Polytechnic, it was with a mechanical engineering degree. I've had this idea of an improved pitching machine in my head for a while. Maybe I'll get to work on that."
Whether he retires at the end of the season or comes back for one more, Stuart Dunbar reflected on what was most important to him as a baseball player.
"I'm so glad the Ravens gave me a shot. It will mean so much to me to retire as a career Corvallis Raven. I understand I'll be the first career Raven in team history, and I couldn't be prouder."
Afterwards, Dunbar grabbed his outfielders mitt and trotted off again to left field, smiling. He paused for a moment and turned.
"Catching all these fly balls, I think it's a joyful penance."
He laughed and ran off to a different pasture, seemingly giving little thought to pitching his likely final game.
Oct 24 2033: Ravens' Third Attempt at LLIV Leaves Much to Be Desired - by lostraven on October 3rd, 2017
For Immediate Release
24 October 2033 - Corvallis, Oregon
The results were far from what Corvallis Ravens owner lostraven imagined in the preseason. "If you had told me this team would be sub-.500 at the end of the season, I would have laughed," he said after the final game of the 2033 season.
The Ravens ended their tumultuous season 79-81, for the first time in modern team history placing lower than third in the division. What went wrong for the team, and can it right the ship as it takes on League Level IV for the fourth time next season? It depends who you ask.
"It stinks," said outfielder and first baseman Rodrigo Montanez after the game. "I stunk this year. I just couldn't get anything done."
"I just need to get in some extra practice in the offseason," he added, noting his struggles versus right-handed pitchers this season.
Montanez wasn't alone in his ruminations on right-handed hitting; Marcos Cano, Julio Dimas, and Calvin Perkins, among others, also lamented their hitting woes versus righties this season. Cano .221, Dimas .255, Perkins .216: with batting averages such as these against righties, it's easier to put the season in context.
It's even a bit easier when you look at the pitching. "Sure, the pitching staff had its share of woes this season," emphasized team manager Harry Youngblood, "but they really put up a fair effort this season."
The Ravens actually had the third-best runs allowed in the division at 708, with first-place Anaheim giving up 701 and second-place North El Dorado only giving up 683. When you look at the runs scored, on the other hand... The Ravens were second to last with 712, with last-place Loveland scoring 701.
Sealing the deal: The team went 32-24 versus lefties, good for second-place in that category for the entire league, but finished second to last in the league versus righties at 47-57.
"This isn't anything entirely new," noted lostraven, "but to see it to this extreme this year? I don't know."
Over the seasons, some have pointed to Corvallis Yard as being part of the problem, with its 20-foot walls in right field and deep center and left. This tends to suppress right-handed hitting a bit and, with the low walls in left, benefit left-handed hitters a bit. But is the Raven's stadium really behind their woes? Again, it depends who you ask.
Some point to the stats from this year as a reason why winning at home isn't necessarily an issue. Corvallis finished 42-38 at home, tied for second-best in the division and tied for third-best in the entire league. Away? The Ravens finished 37-43 away, third-worst in the division and fourth-worst in the entire league. Were the right-handed bats getting suppressed while on the road? This is where the answers are harder to find. Indeed, Corvallis faced some elite defenders in right field with the likes of Renton's Flash Nielsen and North El Dorado's Marcos Caballero. But it gets difficult to pin it on good opposing defense; the reality is likely a mix of many things, including admitting that several of the Ravens simply had down years, and strong efforts from newcomers such as Montoyo and Hurley simply weren't enough to offset that down effort.
"I've not had a year like that before really," said Dimas, who turns 33 next season. "Is age catching up with me, or was it simply a righty problem? I'm just going to tweak some things in the offseason and do my best next year."
Cano had a different take. "I know I had some difficulties versus righties in the minors," he said, "but nothing quite like this season, really. I mean, I had a couple of seasons similar, but I think I can only go up from here."
Manager Youngblood points to a few signs that the offense may see a rebound in the future, most notably in the form of left-handed bats. "Montoyo was a good pick-up for us," he said, praising his speedy impact in the cavernous left field of Corvallis Yard. "For someone who hadn't played much left field before, he really did a great job out there, and with the bat."
Youngblood also tipped his cap to future left-handed hitting third baseman Rick Barrow, who got a September taste of the Bigs. "Given that he only had half a season in AAA this season, I think he held his own."
"And we have many other lefty bats on the cusp," he added.
Is altering Corvallis Yard an option on the table? "I don't think we touch it," said lostraven. "We've done well enough in the past at home, and I don't think it's time to overreact."
Whatever the cause — complex or clear — the team is hoping for a better outcome in 2034, said lostraven. "This season was humbling, and I'm feeling rather fortunate that it wasn't worse, with a relegation or the sort. But I feel like the potential is still there for this team," he said.
"An advance to League Level III may not be in the cards for a couple seasons, but I'm fairly sure we have the potential to be more competitive than we were this season," he added.
Oct 24 2031: Corvallis Ravens End Season with a Wimper - by lostraven on May 2nd, 2017
For Immediate Release
24 October 2031 - Corvallis, Oregon
The Corvallis Ravens will spend the offeseason in reflection and preparation, following on the heels of an up-and-down 2031 that left them with a third-place finish in League IV.5.
"Our first taste of League Level IV was definitely a growing experience," said General Manager and Owner lostraven. "We took our lumps at the beginning and end, but we managed to put together another winning season, which is a buoy for us," he added.
In the first 20 games of the season, the Ravens lost 14, but they got better as the pitching stabilized. A particularly hot June saw the team win 16 out of 24 games, with steady play after that. But the team finished exactly as they started, losing 14 out of their last 20 for an 84-76 record.
Manager Harry Youngblood — the third manager of the team in 2031, brought in for his well-known ability to work well with both major and minor league talent — describes the inconsistency as "a product of youth development" and "seeing what we have of our players at a higher level." In particular, Youngblood points to an extremely young pitching staff, one that finished the season with all but two pitchers age 27 or younger; five are 25, and Rasheed Cannon is 24.
"Yeah, we knew our bullpen and rotation would be young and make mistakes along the way," said Youngblood. "This team has been struggling with inconsistent pitching for years, but we knew we had some up-and-coming talent in the minors. A lot of that talent is just hitting at once, and while they're young. In cases like Cannon, we'd prefer to leave 'em in AAA for another year, but the scouts say they're not going to develop much more down there. So we tried 'em, with mixed results."
Those mixed results could arguably be seen in the numbers. Take for instance the Ravens' 18-23 record in one-run games. Though the jury is still out on the significance of W-L rate for one-run games, it's tough not to look at the bullpen, which coincidentally blew 23 saves over the course of the season.
But the pitching wasn't alone in the youth movement. Many of the bats were getting their first significant taste of the majors, including 22-year-old Carlton Moss. Like Cannon, scouts said Moss was ready for the majors, though the results leave one to wonder if another year in AAA would be in order regardless. Others like 25-year-olds Calvin Perkins and Marcos Cano are still developing into impact players.
What will 2032 hold for the Ravens? It's anyone's guess at this point. Youngblood hinted at another year of uncertainty at SS; both Robinson and Combs shared the position this year, and uncertainty abounds concerning rookie Julio Robles due to his weak bat. Youngblood also suggested that looking for another solid OF bat may be top priority in the offseason, though that leaves to question who would get the cut. A representative close to the organization, speaking on condition of anonymity, suggested Hector Lohman's struggles at the plate, particularly vs. righties, may have set him up to be cut. When asked about Lohman's performance, Youngblood was noncommittal, only saying that Lohman's defense "more than made up for the comparatively weak hitting performance."